Help us design KidneyX

By Elizabeth Squire, Communications Director, and Ross Bowling, Operations Research Analyst

KidneyX seeks to improve the lives of the 850 million people currently affected by kidney diseases worldwide by accelerating the development of drugs, devices, biologics and other therapies across the spectrum of kidney care including: Prevention, Diagnostics and Treatment. For KidneyX, HHS has partnered with the American Society for Nephrology (ASN) to use prize competitions to spur innovation in preventing, diagnosing, and treating kidney diseases. As we continue to develop and design KidneyX, we are looking for your input and today we’re happy to announce that we have just published 2 KidneyX Requests for Information (RFIs). One RFI gives some background about the KidneyX project and asks for feedback on how the project can be most effective while the second RFI seeks your input on plans for an upcoming KidneyX prize competition focused on developing alternative therapies for kidney failure.

HHS and ASN’s goal with KidneyX is to improve quality of life for people living with kidney diseases. This means we’re interested in a wide range of potential KidneyX prize competition topics. Possible topics for future prize competitions include (but definitely aren’t limited to):

  • Medications– a variety of treatments for kidney diseases, including drugs and biologics
  • Diagnostics – point-of-care or at-home testing kits, better methods to measure kidney function
  • Patient-centered Tools – electronic health record tools designed to identify and track diseases, applications to empower patients to manage kidney diseases, methods to improve communication within the patient community
  • Next Generation Dialysis – wearable or implantable dialyzers, tissue engineering
  • Prevention –– methods to identify people at risk of kidney diseases and to slow the progression of those with early stage or chronic kidney diseases

The KidneyX team is eager to hear from the people that KidneyX has the potential to impact most: people living with kidney diseases, providers, care partners, innovators, and researchers, to name a few. These RFIs mark the first opportunity for the general public to provide input on KidneyX.

Some opportunities for input include:

  1. What unmet needs – including those related to product development—should KidneyX prize competitions focus on? If you are a person living with a kidney disease, what makes these topic areas particularly important?
  2. What assistance or services might HHS and ASN offer to KidneyX prize winners that would encourage the greatest participation from a broad range of innovators?
  3. In what ways might HHS and ASN, through KidneyX, effectively encourage collaboration or cooperation between participants/prize winners while respecting their intellectual property rights?
  4. Particularly for those interested in participating in a KidneyX prize competition but unfamiliar with kidney functions and diseases, what information would you find it most useful for HHS and ASN to share publicly?

The first prize will focus on developing alternative therapies for kidney failure and will launch on Thursday, October 25, 2018.

To submit your feedback on KidneyX, you can e-mail us at KidneyX@hhs.gov or mail your feedback to KidneyX c/o Ross Bowling, 200 Independence Avenue SW, Room 624D, Washington, D.C., 20201.

We will be accepting and incorporating feedback until September 14, 2018.

What The Civic Digital Fellows Built This Summer

By: Maddy Kulke & Loren Hinkson

Yesterday, the Coding It Forward Civic Digital Fellowship culminated in an afternoon of lightning talks, panels and live demos in which fellows showcased what they’ve built this summer. The Civic Digital Fellowship is a ten-week program in which graduate and  undergraduates studying computer science, data science and design are placed across federal agencies to craft innovative solutions to tough problems. The 2018 cohort hosted thirty-six fellows across eight agencies: the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of State, the Department of Veterans Affairs Digital Services, the Census Bureau, the General Services Administration, and the International Trade Administration.

Demo Day showcased a wide array of projects, from user experience re-design to data analytics to automate internal processes with machine learning. Fellows at the State Department created a beautiful and effective new user interface for State.gov that allows users to better access and understand information about programs relevant to them. A fellow at the Census Bureau used machine learning to optimize the commodity flow survey and identify errors that were draining agency resources to pinpoint and address manually. A fellow at the National Center for Health Statistics within HHS drew new insights into the opioid crisis through data analytics.

Presenters at demo day for coding if forward

Loren (left) and Maddy (right) presenting at Demo Day.

The office of the CTO at HHS hosted three fellows this year, who supported the HHS CDO’s data sharing initiative and Freedom of Information Act request process prototyping. Across the board, fellows innovated cumbersome processes, eliminated digital barriers that stood in the way of people accessing government resources and information, and leveraged data to answer pressing questions.

The panels featured rich discussions about human-centered design, machine learning, data for public good, and the intriguing intersection of worlds that is civic tech. One major theme was the need for government to design with rather than for users, and how federal agencies are applying this sentiment. A user-centered design process requires multiple iterations driven by conversations with the people that will use the final product.

The need for increased communication and data-sharing between government agencies was also highlighted. Innovation in government often looks different than in tech companies. The “move fast, break things” philosophy is not always possible in the civic space where stakes are high and lives are at stake. However, many fellows remarked that their agencies were far from resistant to implementing new ideas and bringing technical solutions into their workflows.

The desire and talent to implement technical innovation is present. The hard part is building teams and communities centered around continued experimentation and innovation to keep projects alive and thriving. These agencies’ willingness to give these young technologists the opportunity to plant the seeds of innovation within their teams is an indicator that they understand this, and are already thinking about how to continue innovating and iterating.

For more updates on the Coding it Forward Civic Digital Fellowship, follow Coding it forward on Medium and Twitter.

HHS IDEA Lab Helps Bring Ideas to Life

By Luis M. Luque

This blog was originally posted on CDC Connects 

It is hardly a secret that federal agencies are not nimble. The cost of changing a policy, procedure, or tool for an entire agency is expensive, requires coordination, training, and logistics, so it is natural for agencies to slow down and decide carefully. Change in government comes slowly and can be difficult. When employees suggest new ways of doing things, people often think, “Yeah, great idea. Now convince someone to approve it.”

But change does not have to be slow or difficult. That is the point of the HHS Ignite Accelerator. “We have so many challenges, and we have so many staff who have great ideas,” said Sanjay Koyani, the executive director for innovation in the lab’s technology office, “but we’re kind of a risk-averse agency.”

The Ignite Accelerator is an internal innovation startup program for HHS staff. It provides a structure, permission, and encouragement to experiment. Since the IDEA Lab opened several years ago, “We’ve had hundreds of applications come through,” Koyani said. “We’ve tested this program with more than 80 teams.”

Ignite participants working during the 3 day bootcamp

The way it works is that small teams of three to five people submit online applications to the program with ideas for how to improve the way their program, office, or agency works. (However, people who have identified a problem but have not yet identified a solution are also welcome to apply).

If Ignite accepts a team’s application, they are invited to Washington for a 3-day boot camp run in cooperation with instructors from the University of Maryland’s Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which focuses on design and entrepreneurship training. After the boot camp, teams get 3 months of coaching and mentorship to further explore their project and test ideas with real users. At the end of the program, teams come away with a clear problem statement, a prototype solution, and get to pitch their solution directly to HHS and agency leaders in an environment resembling the TV show Shark Tank.

The point of all this preparation is to get people to thoroughly test their ideas before they present them to agency leaders. “In most cases, people don’t do enough investigation on the front end before we start focusing on solutions,” Koyani said.

According to the Ignite website, the goal of each Ignite team during their 3-month program is to validate (or invalidate) the business value of their idea through a series of small but useful tests. The outcome of each Ignite project is usually no more than a prototype that has gone through some sort of beta-testing with actual users—although some projects may go further. At the end, teams pitch leaders for continued funding and political support. It is up to the team to secure this funding for the next phases of their projects. The teams whose ideas show the most promise might find themselves eligible to pitch for support from the HHS Ventures Fund, which is also run from the IDEA Lab.

The IDEA Lab has led other HHS agencies to develop similar innovation programs, too. “Three of our departmental agencies have spun off their own innovation programs,” Koyani said. CDC, having created the CDC Innovation Lab, is one of those three. “We’re really proud of the fact that other agencies have come up with their own similar idea environments.”

Ignite participants reflect on lessons learned during the bootcamp

Ignite participants reflect on lessons learned during the bootcamp

Koyani pointed to a simple but successful IDEA Lab project run by a team on behalf of the Indian Health Service in a Phoenix, AZ hospital. The hospital’s emergency department was constantly dealing with long lines. “People were leaving and going back home. They would come back in an ambulance and say, ‘Sorry, I just couldn’t wait.’” The hospital was not triaging patients efficiently. Someone suffering with a possible cardiac condition could end up waiting behind someone with a splinter in their foot. The team tested various solutions, including the possibility of setting up self-service triaging kiosks, something that had worked well at a Johns Hopkins medical facility.

“Several solutions were quickly evaluated and seen not to be the right solutions,” Koyani said. What ended up working best was a simple human solution: having a nurse at the door to immediately triage people to different lines. “That worked really well with this population. It’s interesting how often some of the simplest solutions can work for some of the most complex-seeming problems.”

Apply for the HHS Ignite Accelerator.

Data roundtable brings together state and local leaders at HHS

By Visakh Madathil

Today, in coordination with the Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE), the HHS Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) convened a roundtable discussion on data sharing policies and data-driven solutions related to the opioid crisis.

The roundtable brought together experts from federal, state, and local government, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and academia to: (1) Explore possibilities and limits of data sharing, and (2) Define challenges, successes, and proposed solutions for using data to address the opioid crisis.

The roundtable builds off the work of the HHS Opioid Symposium and Code-a-Thon. At the Code-a-Thon over 50 teams from across the country worked with over 70 data sets for 24 hours to develop innovative data and technology solutions to address the opioid crisis. The three winning teams from the Code-a-Thon joined the roundtable to share how their innovative solutions have been implemented since the Code-a-Thon.

The HHS Office of the CTO is committed to fostering the use of data for social good while also advancing the goals of the ReImagine HHS effort to “Get Better Insights from Better Data”.  The Office of the CTO is leading a Department-wide effort to better understand how HHS is using and sharing its own data to make more evidence-based policy decisions. The roundtable served as part of this ongoing effort. Through strategic collaboration, such as this roundtable with CODE, HHS can leverage technology and increased data sharing to solve complex problems.

For more information on the work that the Office of the CTO is doing to break down data silos at HHS visit https://www.hhs.gov/idealab/data-insights/

 

HHS holds its first convening of open innovation leaders

Today, the HHS Office of the Chief Technology Officer convened the first meeting of HHS staff working on programs, projects or initiatives related to open innovation at the first Open Innovation Day at HHS Headquarters in Washington, DC.

The day featured lightning talks from staff working on open innovation across the Department including stories from the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration. The lightning talks showcased the progress the HHS has made since the inception of open innovation at HHS.

The gathering of open innovation champions from across the Department helped staff to find new collaborative partners and plan for the future of open innovation at HHS.

“HHS has been a leader across the federal government in practicing open innovation,” said Ed Simcox, Acting Chief Technology Officer, when he kicked off the day.

Ed Simcox, Acting CTO, address the attendees in front of a projector screen

Ed Simcox, Acting CTO, speaking at Open Innovation Day

The use of open innovation at HHS enables the Department to bring opportunities to problem solvers everywhere. Unlike traditional grants, open innovation engages a community of innovators that may not regularly engage with the Department, which brings in diverse perspectives and talent from different fields. Learn more about open innovation at HHS.

Work Here: Design & Build Software at CMS

By: Karl Davis

Howdy. My name’s Karl Davis. For over two years now, I’ve been working with the part of the federal government that runs the Medicare, Medicaid, and Exchange programs (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or CMS). Specifically, I am an Entrepreneur-in-Residence helping CMS to build out APIs for all of the Medicare insurance claims data that it has for its beneficiaries. CMS wants to enable beneficiaries to access and make use of their data to improve their health as well as to create an ecosystem where tech innovators are helping Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers find better ways to use their data. A few months ago, the first API we built, Blue Button 2.0 launched at HIMSS, a big event in the health IT industry.

On the Blue Button 2.0 project, I’ve worked as one of the technical leads. In that role, I’ve helped architect the systems, oversee the contract staff responsible for building and maintaining them, and gotten up to my elbows in writing the code that powers all of it. Beyond just that project, I’ve also helped evaluate contract proposals and worked on other more “big picture” issues. It’s by far the most high impact work I’ve had the privilege of contributing to in my career: everything I’ve done here has made a small but material impact to millions of Medicare beneficiaries.
We’re continuing to work to grow and improve the Blue Button 2.0 API. CMS is now also working on additional APIs to share more data with more partners. CMS – and the federal government overall – are investing in data and APIs like this in order to deliver the best results possible for the American people. There’s so much work to do, but not nearly enough talented folks around to do it.

Your Turn!

Are you a coder that’s ever been frustrated by government IT? Does the thought of chipping in and helping to improve that situation sound interesting? If so, apply here by Monday, July 9.

This is a fantastic opportunity for you to apply your expertise on important projects with a national scope. It’s quite likely that the code and systems you help to create will live on for decades, contributing to our country’s wellbeing.

Is this a fit for you?

  • You’re local to the Baltimore/DC area or are willing to relocate.
  • You have extensive experience with and are comfortable doing hands-on engineering with modern technologies.
  • You have experience with and are comfortable working as part of and leading moderately sized engineering efforts across multiple simultaneous projects.
  • The chance to work on projects with a positive impact for millions of people will get you out of bed every morning, raring to go.

The application window closes at midnight on Monday July 9th, so submit your application now.

HHS welcomes nine students from Coding it Forward

Photo of the Nine Coding it Forward Fellows

Coding it Forward Fellows

By: Coding it Forward

On June 4th, Coding it Forward welcomed nine students to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as a part of its one-of-a-kind Civic Digital Fellowship.

The Civic Digital Fellowship is an engineering, product, and design internship program built for students, by students. The nine Fellows assigned to work at HHS are working across a variety of operating divisions, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the Health Resources and Services Administration on high-impact technical projects. Students will tackle datasets to detect fraud and help HHS with work around the opioid crisis.

Piloted in 2017 with an inaugural cohort of 14 Fellows at the U.S. Census Bureau, the Civic Digital Fellowship has grown to 36 Fellows across six federal agencies. Its start at HHS can be attributed to former Chief Technology Officer Bruce Greenstein, who had a vision of reimagining how HHS thinks about its digital needs and talent strategy.

Under Greenstein’s leadership, the HHS IDEA Lab, led by Kevin McTigue, has embraced a national effort to attract entrepreneurs and startups to the mission of the Department through HHS Startup Day which has sparked interest from innovation hubs across the country to host Startup Day events of their own bringing together HHS business leaders and the startup community. Internal efforts like the Ignite Accelerator program and the public-private HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon in December have also positioned HHS as an innovation leader in the federal space. This track record is why we are excited to have placed nine high-achieving Fellows at HHS for 10 weeks this summer.

On their first day, HHS’s nine Fellows toured the Hubert Humphrey Building and met with innovation leaders from across the Department, including McTigue, Chief Data Officer Dr. Mona Siddiqui, and Jonathan Sullivan, Deputy Executive Director for the HHS Digital Service, U.S. Digital Service.

“The close support of the HHS IDEA Lab will be a great learning opportunity for Fellows, who bring knowledge of and experience in innovative methodologies including agile development, product management, and design thinking that are common in the private sector,” said Coding it Forward co-founder, Chris Kuang. “The Civic Digital Fellowship also aligns nicely with the ‘Reimagine HHS’ initiative that’s already improving the work that HHS does for the American people, in terms of efficiency, quality, and cost-effectiveness,” said Kuang.

Fellows were welcomed and celebrated on Wednesday, June 6th in a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, where Coding it Forward co-founders Rachel Dodell, Athena Kan, and Chris Kuang spoke about the program’s history and motivations. U.S. Census Bureau Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Meisel also offered advice to incoming Fellows. Meisel, a former Presidential Innovation Fellow, was the driving force behind the Fellowship’s inaugural cohort.

While the nine students bring skills to HHS that are often in short supply in the federal government, they will have to learn to navigate the unique challenges of government alongside their new teams and supervisors, a group composed mostly of dedicated civil servants. At the end of their summers, Fellows will be experienced “bureaucracy hackers” and technologists exposed to the sheer scale of impact possible in the public sector, a combination Coding it Forward believes will spur them into a life of civic tech and social impact.

In attracting the next generation of technical talent into government, it’s more important than ever to start early, emphasize impact, and create accessible talent pipelines, much like the HHS and the Civic Digital Fellowship are doing this summer. The Fellowship model is fully-funded—offering housing, travel, and a competitive stipend—and boasts a diversity unseen in the tech sector, with students hailing from a wide range of racial, ethnic, academic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

HHS’s nine Civic Digital Fellows are off to a strong start this summer, in both their own professional journeys and in paving the way for a generation of digital leaders to enter public service.

Meet the HHS Fellows in their own words here or learn more about the program as a whole here. Follow their journeys this summer on Twitter @CodingItForward.

 

Data-Driven Solutions – Take Back America Application

Visionist Inc. accepting an award at the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon

Visionist Inc. at the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon

This is a guest blog from Visionist Inc., a winning team from the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon

91 people die each day from an opioid overdose in the United States. More than half of those who abuse prescription medication obtained their last dosage from a friend or family member (1).

Combating opioid abuse starts with effective prevention. Drug take-back centers are a vital part of a comprehensive prevention strategy at the community level, aimed at eliminating addiction by removing the source. These centers offer a safe and effective outlet for disposing of excess prescription opioids so they cannot be misused or abused. But the question remains: are take-back centers located in areas where they are most needed?

In an effort to develop novel and innovative solutions to this, and other related questions, the Department of Health & Human Services hosted a 24-hour Opioid Code-a-Thon on December 6th-7th, 2017. The event drew over 50 teams and more than 300 experts in software, data science, public health, and research. Teams were challenged to rapidly develop innovative solutions to combat the opioid crisis by leveraging data sets compiled and released by HHS. The Visionist team of three data scientists and one software engineer created Take-Back America, the winning entry in the competition’s “prevention” track.

Take-Back America provides every visitor instant answers to critical questions such as:

  • Where are take back centers located in my community?
  • How effectively have take-back centers been positioned around my community in response to our risk of opioid abuse?
  • What communities have a significant opioid risk?
  • Where do significant coverage gaps in take-back centers exist?

Visionist’s strategy for addressing the challenge was to deploy a team comprised of diverse skill sets to crunch through raw data provided by HHS while augmenting that data with information they obtained from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other public agencies. Leveraging this data, Visionist derived county-level risk statistics for opioid abuse and its correlation to the availability of take-back centers. These efforts converged in the form of a user-centric tool that was rapidly iterated upon to create a functional end-product.

While the competitors only had 24 hours to complete their work, the Visionist team was able to accomplish much in that time. Visionist’s Take-Back America is anticipated to have a profound impact on opioid prevention in its current form, and they are working to make it better! Since the hackathon concluded, Visionist has refreshed the data in their model to provide the most up-to-date take-back locations and county risk statistics. Moving forward, they will iteratively add new features for users with the highest priority items including Google Street View functionality for all take-back sites as well as the implementation of a prescriptive model to help public health practitioners and community organizers identify and evaluate potential locations for new take-back centers.

Visionist and HHS look forward to continuing the conversation about how data can affect real change in the battle against opioid addiction and throughout the healthcare community at the 2018 Health Datapalooza on April 26th and 27th at the Washington Hilton in Washington D.C.  Please come to the HHS booth in the Exhibit Hall and meet Taylor and Kelsey, members of Visionist’s award winning team. If you are unable to attend the conference, Visionist would still welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Get in touch with them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or via email (health@visionistinc.com) today!

(1) 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Leveraging the Power of the Crowd in Research and Data Analysis

By Katrina Theisz, Program Analyst, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

This year at Health Datapalooza 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has put together a panel highlighting the impact of biomedical crowdsourcing on the scientific community. Featuring talks from Jennifer Couch (National Institutes of Health),  Sandeep Patel (HHS IDEA Lab) Stephanie Devaney (National Institutes of Health), Pietro Michelucci (Human Computation Institute), and Matt Biggerstaff (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), we’ll delve into the different ways engaging the public in scientific research can complement traditional research methods while moving the field forward.

By engaging with people who may not normally participate in scientific endeavors you can gain insight and creative solutions you may not be able to through standard scientific approaches. Citizen Science is an example of a collaborative approach to research involving the public, not just as subjects of or advisors to the research, but as direct collaborators and partners. People know their own lives, their health, their communities, and by working in partnership with them, researchers stand to gain so much. The word partnership is of importance here; that, depending on the project, the questions being asked, and how the study is performed, much of this work starts at the individual or community level.

At its heart, true citizen science is bottom-up, not top-down.Graph that says create, collaborate, connect

Crowdsourcing, on the other hand, tends to start with researchers and filter down, typically in one of two ways: 1. voluntary participation or contributions solicited from unknown individuals (aka “the crowd,” be they experts or not); and 2. opening a line of scientific inquiry to a group of experts (typically achieved through prizes and challenges). People are motivated to help science for a variety of reasons- some because the research may directly impact their lives, others simply because they like science. Sometimes adding a game-like or competitive component to the project is enough to draw people to it.  An added bonus of tapping into the power of the crowd is gaining access to insights you don’t expect. (for example, in Galaxy Zoo, participants sort through satellite imagery to identify different classes of galaxies- side note: by giving participants a forum to share their thoughts and converse with each other, citizen scientists realized they had found an entirely new kind of galaxy.)

But it’s not without its hurdles. Biomedical citizen science and crowdsourcing come packaged with issues that don’t commonly plague other types of projects that engage the public in scientific research. When it comes to sharing personal health data, for instance, there are data privacy and security issues that you won’t find in astronomy citizen science projects. Therefore, trust and transparency are key to the success of any such project, starting at the beginning. It starts with consent- consent that is easy to understand, no law degree needed, no lengthy fine print. What data do the project leaders need? What will it be used for? Who can access it? Addressing those questions clearly up front (and sticking to them) is a great way to avoid issues later. Want to reuse those data later for a different project? Great! Re-consent your participants. Concerned that not everyone in your study is comfortable with the language being used? Consistent iconography can help. We’re an increasingly visual society, and utilizing familiar icons and images can help to clearly convey content without resorting to wordiness.

And then there are the never-ending questions about data quality. How can traditional researchers ensure that donated data are accurate? What kinds of quality control methods work best? Available data suggest that the crowd is as accurate as (and sometimes more accurate than) individual experts, something that has been demonstrated time and time again. Additionally, humans are quite adept at making inferences, visual perception, and abstract thought, which, when paired with computers, can help to train algorithms to recognize certain objects or patterns.

On Friday, April 27th at Health Datapalooza 2018 we will delve into these concepts and much more. For more information on the conference please go to: http://www.academyhealth.org/events/2018-04/2018-health-datapalooza.

Editor’s Note: You can register for the Health Datapalooza here. HHS is a sponsor of the conference.

Technology and Community Join Forces to Increase Naloxone Distribution

By the Minus O Team

This is a guest blog post from a team that participated in the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon.

There’s no denying we’re in the midst of a national crisis that’s affecting every American community regardless of color, income, education, employment status or age. Every day approximately 175 people die of an opioid-related overdose. Every day. Given the incredible damage being ravaged upon our neighborhoods, families, schools and workplaces, the National Opioid Action Coalition (NOAC), and one of its corporate members, Lowekey, have committed to leveraging technology to make a positive impact on this national epidemic. By leveraging the power of mobile technology, the resources of partner and government organizations, and individuals in the community, this team is working to expand the availability of naloxone, the life-saving opioid overdose antidote.

Photo of coders working at the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon

The Minus O team working at the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon

What is it?

Last year’s HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon, gave our team a look into the many rich data assets at HHS and showed the public and the Department what innovative solutions can be developed when the public and the private sector come together. One of those ideas came in the form of our mobile app Minus O.

Minus O is a mobile app that has three main purposes as it relates to the opioid crisis; expanding accessibility and distribution of naloxone, connecting people who may be abusing opioids with treatment resources, and collecting and analyzing data to aid health organizations and first responders in learning more about the epidemic’s impact in specific areas. The app is designed and developed by the team at New York based mobile design firm Lowekey (www.lowekey.com) led by CEO Gregory Lowe II.

“The effect Opioid overdoses have had on my home state of Ohio has been devastating, at Lowekey we felt it was our calling to leverage mobile technology to do something about it,” said Mr. Lowe.

The app, along with support from pharmaceutical and corporate partners, allows lay-persons to register as “responders,” allowing them to receive and carry a free dose of naloxone. Additionally, friends and family members of an individual who may be abusing opioids are able to download the app (anonymously) and use it’s pulsating “SOS” beacon to request assistance from a “responder” should they need naloxone in a rescue situation. Through the app and corporate funding of supply, Minus O creates a “justice league” for opioid overdose victims.

Designing the app

There are two user-scenarios for the app – “responders,” represented with a gradient blue-green color and “requestors,” identified with a gradient red. The color selection is intentional, with the responder colors symbolizing stability and trust and the requestor interface signaling urgency and caution. This color scheme is consistent throughout the app making it easy for users to know what type of action is happening – especially important in a medical emergency situation.

With any design project offering a solution, there are 5 steps that are adopted during development; empathy/understanding the problem, research, wireframes, visual design, and testing. The most important phase in designing Minus O was the research phase where the Lowekey team had to adopt the concept of “user centered design,” keeping in the forefront the user’s state of mind when interacting with this particular app.

The team spent half of the research phase brainstorming concepts, and in the process came to understand the opioid epidemic more deeply. They worked with a fellow NOAC member, Brenda Zane, who provided first-person experience after her son suffered two Fentanyl overdoses and was rescued both times with Narcan. Her “ground level” insights and understanding of the user environment provided the team with actionable steps that could be built into the design.

“We used the Logo as a starting point for the overall look and feel of the app,” said lead designer Alaere Jituboh. We aimed to create a logo that portrayed the help we wanted to offer – more so become a “beacon” of hope in the midst of a devastating crisis. The concept explores symbolism and the psychology of color. The logo is comprised of a simple sans-serif font and a stylized “O” made up of two orange rings and a white dash in the center – orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow, which often is associated with the feeling of encouragement and stimulation, and white being a ray of light and hope.

Connecting to resources

With the initial goal of extending the availability of naloxone accomplished, the team wanted to ensure that users would also have immediate access to treatment and other crisis resources though the app. Lowekey and Zane will be working at a regional level to implement links and access to both state and private resources which will be geo-targeted to the user’s location. This allows those individuals surrounding an overdose victim to actively seek help at the time when it’s most critical – the 24-48 hours post-overdose when opioid users are at higher risk for relapse and additional overdoses.

Piloting the program

In partnership with Ms. Zane and Cole & Weber, a WPP agency in Seattle, the NOAC team and Lowekey are preparing for mid-year (2018) pilot launch in three high-need counties in Washington State. They are in the final stages of securing naloxone funding and distribution and creating a media-backed awareness campaign to expand the program’s footprint and gain widespread adoption. The goal is to reach a 1% saturation rate of responders in these counties in order to collect the necessary and actionable data to further curb the rate of opioid overdose deaths. Once baseline data and results are collected the team will expand the program to other high-need areas across the country.

For additional information please contact:

Gregory Lowe  greg@lowekey.com

Brenda Zane  206.261.8119